A revolution worth fighting for
With Never Alone and a few others, it's pretty cool to have videogames about different cultures and histories that you don't ever get in this medium. In this case it's Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution when anti-establishment sentiment was soaring against the Shah totalitarian regime. It's fascinating to learn about that through the game while having a cohesive and compelling story so it doesn't feel like just a narrated walk through a museum exhibit. All the historical and cultural tidbits you learn and uncover makes for an enlightening experience like the political climate of the time such as about SAVAT or the Mujahideen, Iran's version of backgammon, the food, and why there was such an anti-American fervour.
The game plays like a historical Telltale game where you have player control and moral decisions to make but it's not quite an adventure game and more a cinematic experience. It's well-written drama with moving music and great voice acting. There are large crowd setpieces which are quite impressive for how much detail is packed in for a crowdfunded game (that missed its initial Kickstarter goal of $395K). There are sometimes QTEs which just reminded me of Indigo Prophecy and they can be silly but the most effective one is when you're moving between a hail of bullets and can die pretty easily, so patience and attention to audio cues is key. There's a framed narrative so you're reminiscing about this time of the 1979 Revolution while being interrogated and tortured. You play as Reza, who's a photographer struggling to remain neutral as it becomes increasingly harder to do at the cusp of a revolution. You've been away from the country so it's also a homecoming story. All the photograph taking reminded me of Beyond Good And Evil, so that was great. Often when you take a photo, you can read more info about the real event which reminded me of Never Alone's tapes.
There's a cast of characters that are all interesting (especially Bibi the woman leader of the protests, Babak the close friend, Ali the hothead, and Hossein your brother who's Shah security). Moral decisions relating to them can be trying with your own politics like whether violence such as throwing rocks during a protest is justifiable under such oppression. There's a particular one in the last quarter of the game that will feel like you're given nothing to make such a potentially devastating accusation or who to save which plays into the endings. There are 19 chapters, some of them can zip by in a few minutes while the ones where you're controlling Reza and navigating environments while interacting with hotspots can be longer, so overall it's a 2 hour experience. The story is eventful enough that it doesn't feel short but despite both endings, the abrupt ending(s) is a major cliffhanger. Abrupt not in an artistic sense where there's meaning to it but just as if there will be a continuation to do with other characters.
Despite the intense drama around the revolution, it was the smaller specific moments that stuck with me more. At one point that's not related to the plot, you can decide to pray or not. I've never seen muslim prayer in a videogame ever and have to say it was very faithful with even a step-by-step photo guide. From that prayer, you get a line of dialogue about Prophet Muhammad PBUH that can be used later on. My favourite sequence was spending time in your home with your family, viewing live-action photos, arguing with family members about this political situation, rummaging through items, and coming across this giant stack of home video tapes. The photos and home videos are all live-action which made me wonder if this was autobiographical in a way, and that kind of intimacy was exciting. I wanted to spend more time with these characters and this world, which is why I felt unsatisfied with the ending as I just wanted more. That is probably a good thing.